Leah KalmansonOct 20, 2022
On the Meaning of Life in Asian and Western Thought
Bloomsbury Publishing 2020
Does human existence have a meaning? If so, is that meaning found in the world outside of us, or is it something we bring to our experience? In Cross-Cultural Existentialism: On the Meaning of Life in Asian and Western Thought (Bloomsbury, 2020) Leah Kalmanson shows how East Asian philosophies challenge the dichotomy implicit in the way this question is often framed. Her book investigates Korean Buddhist meditation, Confucian ritual practices, and Yijing divination. Along the way she argues that the speculative approaches implicit in these traditions, contrary to the views of many modern European philosophers, means that metaphysical theorizing need not be in opposition to cultivating practical techniques and taking subjectivity seriously. Taking the Korean Buddhist nun Kim Iryŏp as her center point, Kalmanson traces lines of historical influence backwards to Song-dynasty Ruist (or “Confucian”) thinkers such as Zhu Xi and considers conceptual connections outwards to modern existentialists such as Georges Bataille, all the while reflecting on one of philosophy’s big questions: just what does life mean, if anything?
Malcolm Keating is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Yale-NUS College. His research focuses on Sanskrit works of philosophy in Indian traditions, in the areas of language and epistemology. He is the author of Language, Meaning, and Use in Indian Philosophy (Bloomsbury Press, 2019) and host of the podcast Sutras & Stuff.